Can you give me a quote for this project? If you’re a freelancer, you probably hear or read this statement almost daily. What’s your response like?

Can you give me a quote for this project? If you’re a freelancer, you probably hear or read this statement almost daily. What’s your response like?

a) It’s $X,000; or

b) It would cost around $X,000 to $Y,000; or

c) I think it’s best that I meet or talk with you first, so we can discuss what your needs are. What is your budget for the project?

I’ve used all three approaches for a variety of projects. Although responses (a) and (b) have their place, I’ve gotten the best results from variations of (c). More often than not, quotes haven’t really worked for me or my clients, and here’s why…

It’s incomplete. Your quote is just a number. Your clients can’t surmise all the information they need from that number. Apart from the primary services you provide, you should also give them your advice. Oftentimes, what a client really needs is different from what they think they need. In this case, an assessment of a client’s business and project, followed by a proposal, is the better approach.

Sometimes, when a client wants a website redesign, they mean they want something more pleasing to the eye, or something in a different color, or a copycat of another website. But will this really work for them? You need to make suggestions – you’re not just a service provider, you’re also a consultant. For this, it helps to reference some statistics or case studies within your proposal so that your clients know that your ideas are quantifiable. These things aren’t included in a quote.

If a potential client insists on some numbers, then give them a very wide range. Let them know that these numbers aren’t concrete and that there are several factors affecting the final price. Offer to discuss it with them better so you can give them the best value for their money.

It’s vague.
When a client asks you for a quote, especially a new client, odds are you’re not talking about the project in the exact same way. For example, they don’t know how many working hours it will take and you don’t know what results they expect.

A proposal defines the project in black and white. This makes proposals just as important as your contract. Whenever you or your client are in doubt about the scope, expected results, or objectives of the project, you’ll always have the proposal to consult.

It sets expectations. Some clients look at your quote and think that it’s all they’ll ever have to spend on the project. When they ask you to do an additional task you haven’t factored into the quote, they might be disappointed that they have to pay extra. A proposal breaks down the costs of each aspect of the project, showing your client exactly how each dollar is spent.

Since a quote is incomplete, vague, and sets expectations, it may lead potential clients to a largely uninformed decision. Most clients need – and even appreciate – being informed about the stages, costs, and requirements of a project.

When does a quote work? A quote is simple and straightforward, and it works on an equally simple and straightforward request. This includes scenarios like a request to write a 700-word movie review, resizing a banner you made for a previous project, or installing a widget on your client’s blog. A quote can also work as part of a response to an ad – provided that all the necessary project specifications are already listed and outline by those doing the hiring. However, for larger projects involving several stages, a proposal is best.

In the end, it’s up to you to choose between a quote and a proposal. They each have their own benefits and their own disadvantages. Just remember that the next time someone emails you requesting a quote, ask yourself if a proposal is better for this situation before you hit the “Reply” button.

How often do you use proposals? Do quotes work for you?

  1. well. a b or c are very bad. Never give to customer a budget before see all needs , advantages of the project for him. I normally say ” you save x hours doing this, and your process is better “, etc,etc. The customer must view all, not only cost. Talk to him. I made jobs with the highest budget. Why ? The customer trust me. If the customer only view the number in the paper, forget it.

    Sorry my horrible english.

  2. If you sell on price, you’re not selling :-)

    I think usually it’s C – I’ve found that most times prospects who just want prices and nothing else are tire-kicking.

    All the time I get calls from people just wanting a price – and I politely turn them down if they don’t want to do at least a short meeting to get to know the person and to truly suss out their needs.

  3. I HATE it when people use option C. It seems to imply that you’re going to charge me whatever I say I’ll pay, even if you would do it for less.

    Sometimes I know exactly what I’m looking for and just want to see what you’re charging. If you can offer additional value, then I might pay for it.

    I don’t want to spend 30 minutes “discussing” the project with you when all I need to know is if we’re in the same ballpark or not. If we are, then we can talk later, but it’s a waste of everyone’s time to meet when there is no chance of the work going forward.

  4. What about “It’s a great plan for a cheaper competitor”? If you are good and thorough, you are providing a free plan for a low-balling competitor.

  5. @ ozofeliz: I often want to hear the budget, not because I’ll limit myself to that, but to get a better idea of how the client values my work. I’ll probably offer them the best value for their money, which doesn’t necessarily have much to do with their budget.

    @ Peter: Re: contractors taking advantage of the budget. Not necessarily the case. I’m not saying it never happens, it probably does. It just solely depends on the ethics of the contractor and the client’s ability to catch a BS-er when he sees one.

    @ dtj: Keep in mind that you’re also selling yourself and your team. You shouldn’t give too much away in the proposal and your client has to know exactly what unique skills/experience you bring to the table – so he/she won’t go anywhere else. It’s about selling value, and if your potential client doesn’t see that, they’re not worth working with.

  6. Option C is the only sensible way for a complex or multi-part project.

    @Peter – I understand where you’re coming from, but how can someone give you even a ballpark figure without understanding fully what he’s bidding on? To me, preliminary number projections are often based on false assumptions and lead to budget-wasting work. Why not choose a handful of vendors whose work you like or that come recommended by friends and invest the 30 minutes each discussing the project?

    As a web and graphic designer, when I ask what budget a client has for a project it tells me what I can afford to offer them. If a client doesn’t have a pre-set budget that’s fine too, but that initial discussion is then even more critically necessary for both sides to come away with a better informed ‘ballpark’ range.

  7. C is definitely the best option, but the concerns about budget naming are definitely valid. That’s why you often don’t need to have that conversation until the very end.

    The best point of the article is that often clients don’t really know what they need, and it’s your job really to tell them what it is that they need. They have come to you for help in your expertise, and you should give it.

    If you come up with a solution that is out of their budget, you can always scale back, but knowing what are the most important factors allow you to keep your focus on the important stuff, and give a solution that matches both your needs as a provider and the needs of the client.

  8. Asking about the budget definitely sets off my trust alarms, as a previous poster noted. Too many consultants are just seeing what they can hit you up for.

    Go with the honest answer:
    Without more information, it is hard to give you an estimate. We could sit down for a half hour consult to define the project better, for which I would charge $X, after which we can determine what my price would be for the project. (Optionally: If I get the project, I’ll waive the consult fee.)

  9. I normally try to get enough information to be able to give my clients a range prior to spending a lot to time drilling down and determining how I can benefit a company. I also like to give them a range to make sure that I am not going to waste my time on a client who can’t afford me. I feel that once they are comfortable in my price range for their needs I go through a round of meetings/phone calls to flesh out the project requirements and try to determine what else I can do to help my client. Using this approach I keep from wasting time on people and spend more time helping my clients.

  10. You could bring a portfolio of work and show the person what you charged for each thing and why.


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